tv Overheard With Evan Smith PBS May 16, 2018 12:30am-1:01am PDT
- [narrator] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy, and by claire and carl stuart. - i'm evan smith, he's the 109th mayor of new york, a few months into his second term leading the biggest city in america, and on the long list of names floated as possible candidates for president in 2020. he's bill deblasio, this is overheard. (light music) - [evan] let's be honest. is this about the ability to learn or is this about the experience of not having to talk properly? how have you avoided what has befallen other nations in africa and-- you could say that he made his own bed, but you caused him to sleep in it. you saw a problem, and over time you took it on-- let's start with the sizzle before we get to the steak. are you gonna run for president? (overlapping voices) (audience cheers) - mr. mayor, welcome. - thank you.
- thank you very much for being here. let me go right to the elephant in the room, or the donkey as it were. - the donkey in the room? - do you understand-- - you just coined a new phrase, the donkey in the room. - the donkey in the room. - all right. - you understand why people talk about you running for president? - sure, i think it has a lot to do with how mayors are becoming more prominent. - [evan] are you encouraging it, personally? - no. i have a tremendously valued job, i really appreciate the opportunity to serve the people in new york city-- - right. - but i'm also going around the country talking about the need for a more progressive democratic party-- - right. i'm talking about the need for cities to stand up and address what is not being addressed in washington-- - right. - i think mayors have a very big role to play nationally in the absence, in my view, of a federal government that-- - right. - that is absent, so it doesn't surprise me that for, probably the first time in memory, you hear mayors talked about as potential presidential candidates. eric garcetti in los angeles, - sure. - mitch landrieu in new orleans, even pete buttigieg in south bend, indiana. we hear mayors alongside senators and governors, and regular old folks being talked about.
i mean, a long list of people. - yeah. - you have foreclosed previously when asked, when you went to iowa and why would a mayor of new york go to iowa, it is assumed, except to kick around the idea of doing something else. when you were asked, you said "i am not running." is that your position today? - yeah, i'm mayor of new york city, it's a tremendous honor to do that, i've got a lotta work to do for the next four years that's my focus. - you commit to running, you commit to staying in that job for four years. - i have, but my focus also, 'cause i think we have to be able to do more than one thing at a time in this very roiled environment we're in-- - right. - is to build a national progressive movement, is to help push the democrat party to the left, explicitly, - right. - and to actually amplify the work of cities all over the country, and create more coalition among cities for change. when cities act in unison-- - right. - you create another version of national policy. - right. - and so all this work is crucial, it cannot just be done from my desk in city hall. i'm gonna keep doing that work, but i feel it's important that mayors stand
and be counted at this point, because you can't sit back in your cities and expect the kind of bigger changes to occur. we have to build something nationally that's different. and i gotta tell you, the energy on the ground in this country is absolutely amazing. - right. - when you look at what is being achieved city by city, and i wanna talk about a couple of things we're doing. - a host of issues, right? - yeah, but what's so fascinating is cities have woken up. they are in an aggressive posture right now. - right. - to create real change in their communities, whether it's addressing affordable housing or, in our case, for example, pre-k for all our kids-- - right. - or going at changes in how we have police and community relate to each other. we're not waiting for a federal policy or even a state policy-- - right. - it's a do-it-yourself moment. - why now, mr. mayor? you know, is it all trump? because you had eight years of obama when the mayors could've gotten as activated and as organized, where the cities were just as much laboratories of innovation, experimentation and democracy as they are now. if you all wanted to activate at that time, you could've.
this seems to be more about what you're opposed to, versus what you're for. - i appreciate why it may look that way, but i'm gonna argue that actually it was well in motion before that. i think there's a historical trajectory that has to be talked about a lot more. the recession, which has, the great recession, defined the politics of our time. occupy wall street, i think, was a signature moment-- - right. - in terms of opening up the political process. then you saw progressives start to get elected all over the country at the local level. in 2012, my number one platform item when i was running in the election the following year was a tax on wealthy new yorkers to pay for pre-k for all. - but yeah, we have some experience with that in texas, in san antonio, specifically, where they raised the sales tax by some incremental amount to pay for full day pre-k for 22,000 4-year-olds. - and what san antonio did under mayor castro was well before you ever heard of the name donald trump as a potential presidential candidate. - correct. - when i, in 2012, said "let's tax the wealthy for pre-k for all," that was well before-- - he was still your constituent.
- god help me. - right. (laughs) - not a point of pride for some of us. that's okay. (audience laughs) but look, here's what i wanna say. - yeah. - that was well before trump. cities were increasing, more and more progressives were being elected, more and more change agents, i think, again, mayor adler's done amazing things here in austin. it's a different type of mayor that emerged well before trump. now, i think you're right to say the election of trump then crystallized a movement locally-- - yep. - and among mayors, to force change. the most obvious example is when trump left the paris agreement, which could've been a devastating moment, had there not been a vivid response-- - yeah. - over 300 american mayors said "no, we're still in. we're going to abide by the paris agreement. we're going to create a response to global warming on our own, locally, in the absence of national leadership." and this is a paradigm shift, that i think is only beginning to be fully understood. think about it this way, and i'm-- you know, being in the great state of texas, and it's a long tradition of independence
and independent thinking. - right. - if your federal government is not functioning, do it yourself, create on the ground. so imagine the notion of something that you would think is quintessentially federal and national, like a policy on global warming, in the absence of a federal policy, a extraordinary coalition of localities get together and say "we're not only saying symbolically we're going to abide by it," - right. - "we're actually going to meet these standards. we're committing ourselves locally to meeting these standards." - practically, mr. mayor, what does that mean? what can you actually do to affect the outcome of this issue? - so, we are now putting mandates on our buildings. you know, the biggest source of pollution in new york city is actually big buildings. we're putting mandates that they have to get cleaner, they have to be retrofitted, or there are substantial penalties if they don't. - right. - we're putting up electric car charging stations all over new york city, as a public investment to encourage the conversion to electric vehicles. our city car fleet is gonna be all electric. we are divesting our pension fund investments from fossil fuel holding companies.
it's five billion dollars, ultimately-- - yeah. - that will be taken out of fossil fuel industry. we are actually suing five of the largest petroleum companies to hold them responsible for the impact they've had on global warming. - yeah. - this is one city, but now i'm talking about 300 cities, each in their own way-- - versions of the same thing. - each in their own way-- - right. - that are finding a way to address global warming. - are you getting pushback from the big businesses that are either headquartered or have significant amounts of business in new york, who might be on the receiving end of a lot of these regulations or a lot of these policies that, while they may be well-intentioned, and people in the communities may support them, but at the same time, you know the tension between the climate issue on the one hand, and economic development and the business community on the other. - i'm very familiar with the tension, and i'll tell you, it's happen-- - yeah. (laughs) - well, i am and yes, yes i have. - yes i am, well right. (audience laughs) that's why i'm the host, i ask the good questions. - it has become, you know, this is my fifth year as mayor. - yes sir. - and i'll tell ya, when we went to do paid sick leave for half a million more families-- - right. - some of the business community
told me the sky was gonna fall. when we pushed for a higher minimum wage in our state, which we ultimately achieved, the economy was going to ground to a halt. - but we're gonna have to lay a bunch of people off. - right, when we said was gonna be tough mandates to address global warming, oh, literally our real estate boards said at one point this was going to devastate the real estate market in new york city. - yep. - i'm like, come on, that's ludicrous. i think it is, when you know that kind of critique is coming, it doesn't mean you don't listen to people or work with people, but i'm just not falling for that. we have to, look at that line of examples. we have to raise wages and benefits in a society that's absolutely being undermined by vast income inequality. we have to address global warming. it's a survival matter. it's not a matter that could be sublimated to the needs of a company for profit. - right. - we have to sort this out together, and honestly, i said, i went to the united nations a few years ago and said we would abide by the core paris agreement goal, which was 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050, and i said there, literally at the podium
of the united nations in the general assembly, i said if the business sector comes along voluntarily, that would be our preference, if not, we will issue mandates. lo and behold, after several years of discussing, i was not shocked to find that the business community did not voluntarily meet the standard we needed-- - right. - so we said, great, we'll make it really easy for you, meet these standards or there will be substantial financial penalties. that's a language they can understand. - and you have to mean it, by the way. - you have to mean it. - it cannot be an idle threat. do you worry that scott pruitt at the epa, or the trump administration will swoop in and say "this is not really the purview of the cities, and we're gonna challenge you." i mean, you don't really care about that either, do you? that's a fight you'd love to have. - well not, look, the irony is it's a fight i'd love to not have-- - [evan] yeah. - because i like the notion of local control to be respected - [evan] right. - and let us do the work we're doing for our people with the values of our city. but if it's a fight that comes, we will meet 'em on the battlefield, and i believe we will beat them, because what's been forgotten in the whole trump epoch is the united states constitution
is very friendly to localities. a few weeks after the election, i gave a speech at the cooper union building in new york city, very historic place where there've been important moments in history discussed. i said, "look, we've gotta remember our constitutional structure is a defense at this moment. the values of new york city, the values of texas-- - [evan] right. - are going to be expressed by local government and state government in a variety of ways." and in fact the constitution does not allow the federal government to come in and say "we're gonna be able to nullify everything you want to do." - and yet, mr. mayor, you know that the local control conversation has been turned on its head in many places-- - yes. - it has in texas, i don't know if it has in new york. - yes. - where the state says, "states created the federal government, states created the cities and the counties, the states have the ultimate sovereign authority." so the fact is, local control only works if we like how the locals are being controlled, otherwise we say that whole jeffersonian idea of the best government is the government closest to the people, forget about that. i just wonder if, really, you can make the civics textbook argument successfully
if the federal government decides that all not withstanding, we wanna swoop in and tell you you can't do what you wanna do. - oh, we believe we can. i'll give you the example of the attempts by the president and attorney general sessions to threaten to withhold our security funding if we don't change our policies. - sanctuary cities. - undocumented immigrants, right? so the, look, this is one i love to talk about. - well, you boycotted that meeting, right? you were proudly, you decided not to go see the, right. - i didn't want to have to boycott the meeting, but once again they threatened my city. - but you did it, but you did it. - but here's the bottom line, and actually had a very surreal meeting with donald trump and jeff sessions a week or two after the election in an attempt at some kind of dialogue, and i said, "look, the reason to understand how we approach immigration, in say, new york, with half a million undocumented immigrants--" - yeah. - "is about public safety." i said, "don't talk to me, talk to my police commissioner.
if you wanna hear a non-partisan assessment, talk to my police commissioner about why we will not ask documentation status and why that has helped us to bond police and community together in immigrant communities, and that is why we are now the safest big city in america, it's part of what got us there." - and isn't it consistent, mr. mayor, not just in texas, but all over the country, that law enforcement tends to think that those laws actually don't improve public safety? - actually-- - in fact, they create disincentives for people in the undocumented community to come forward and report crimes. - yeah, what i have seen from law enforcement leadership all over the country is exactly that. they need the dialogue and the open channel-- - [evan] right. - between immigrants and police to be there, and if you ask someone's documentation status, you're basically asking them not to come forward if they see or witness a crime, or they're a victim of a crime. so to wrap together to your previous point, what i feel, in that case-- - [evan] yep. - we've been threatened with our funding being taken back, funding that helps us fight terrorism, for example. - right. - we're gonna stand and fight to keep that funding. and we believe, constitutionally, we're on very firm ground. - but that's a harder fight than climate. climate seems to be, relative to sanctuary cities,
more of a polite disagreement. sanctuary city is a fight, and it's not just a fight where you are, but it's a fight all over the country. and unlike climate, which the president didn't necessarily seem to care all that much about during the campaign, he made sanctuary cities and legislation around immigration the basis for his campaign. is he gonna relent? - i don't think he will want to relent. - big campaign issue for him going into the next election. - perhaps, although again, look at the public opinion polling around the country. look at the views that americans have about the dreamers, for example, i think there's a lot more open mindedness than is often ascribed. i think the president obsessively focuses on his base. - [evan] yep. - but we see the polling. his base is somewhere in the 30 to 35 percent range in terms of the total of the american people. - right. - to the core point you raise, look, in the end, there is a dynamic, there is a reality of local control, on some of the most fundamental things affecting peoples' lives. if the federal government or a state government want to try and turn it on its head and say "oh, wait, wait, you're creatures of us,
so we're not going to allow you to do what you wanna do," that, politically, is untenable. at a certain point, the emerging majorities on these issues take over the situation. - if not immediately, then soon. - exactly. - right. - and so, for example, on climate change, and this is both growing awareness among people all over the country, but it's clearly generational as well. every single day, there are more young people who are registering to vote, who fundamentally believe that climate change threatens their futures. - [evan] right. - they want to see action. they will stand by that action. if their state government tries to stand in the way, or their federal government, they will act on that. - they'll be the pushback. speaking of young people, is guns going to be the next frontier for mayors? i mean, obviously, the federal government's disposition on guns has been shifting back and forth and back and forth, depending on who the president last talked to - [bill] yeah. - over the last couple of weeks. but the reality is, if you look at the public opinion polling, not just after parkland, but frankly before parkland, on things like ban on high-capacity magazines, - yeah. - limitations on access to automatic weapons, strengthen background checks, the public has really been, maybe as far back as sandy hook, or before--
- yes. - 60, 70, 80 percent in red parts of the country and blue parts of the country-- - that's right. - for these things, and yet congress has not acted. can the cities take over that issue as well? - we can't take it over, but we can help build the movement that will achieve the change. so when you talk about the gun issue, there has been a huge opening, in terms of actual public opinion, for years. the x factor now is these parkland students have done something, i literally cannot find a parallel, unless you go back to the 60s and 70s. a high school student starting to be active-- - [evan] yep. - in this way, and having this kind of impact, their moral voice is extraordinary. - and completely counter to the rap on that generation, which is, they would just as soon be on snapchat all the time and not be paying attention to this stuff. - which is a fundamental misunderstanding, you know, i-- - well you've got kids this age, you know these kids, these are your kids. - let me tell you, i am struck, my daughter chiara is 23, my son dante is 20, and i was always struck, when they were growing up, they were really serious about the world around them.
- [evan] yep. - and i said, i kept trying to figure out why, and i was watching in 2015 and 2016 during the presidential campaigns, you saw this super evolving youth energy, obviously a lot of it for bernie sanders, but you saw a different kind of youth presence in the campaign than we've seen for awhile-- - right. - and here's my analysis. these young people grew up with global warming, they grew up with the great recession, they grew up with the fear of crippling college debt. - right. - i liken them, in a way, to the generation that my parents were from that had grown up with the depression, and world war two, and had a kind of worldly wisdom as a result of that. i think this generation is focused, and has tools to organize that for the rest of us, when we were young, we could not have imagined in our wildest dreams. - and in addition to that, kind of on the affirmative side, this generation is going to have less of an issue with same-sex marriage, potentially, this is gonna have less of an issue with reproductive rights, potentially-- - [bill] yep. - less of an issue with diverse populations, necessarily, because for them, that's sort of like, ugh. we're past that fight already. for them, that's kind of like, let's just keep going.
- that's right. - the overturning of them all generationally is going to create some interesting opportunities in this country, to finally get at some of these problems. - well, i think that's-- - at least you can be hopeful that it will. - i am very hopeful. - yeah. - and i think it's a redefinitional moment, i think that the generation coming up is going to fundamentally change the ground rules of american politics. - [evan] right. - and i, look, it's already started. i think we are focused, of course, on the results of election night, november 8th-- - 2016 - 2016 we gotta remember what was happening the day before, and for the year or two before that, where, in the case of the bernie sanders movement-- - right. - for example, you saw a whole new kind of politics, you saw a kind of grassroots activism and, obviously, the ability to generate the resources for a campaign on a national scale that we never could've imagined. - right. - politics in america was shifting before the election of trump, the election of trump then supercharged it, things like the women's march, the single biggest demonstration in the country. - so you believe that the women's march and the protests at airports like laguardia and jfk over the refugee ban, and the protests in the streets over ice deportations and everything else, that these
will ultimately translate into votes? because i have to tell you, i'm skeptical. i see moments not movements. i will believe that these things are going to be meaningful politically when the same people in the streets, in the pussycat hats or in the airport gates, actually go to vote. we know that voter turnout in this country is not what it oughta be. - well, so i wanna say two quick things. - yeah. - one, i believe they will, and i think if you look at the elections of november 2017, and everything since, these turnouts surges-- - that's a tell. - we're seeing-- yeah, it's something that's going on that's deeper. the second thing i'd say is, we need to address the problem of democracy. so, in our state we have, actually, very backward election laws. - it is hard to register to vote. - [evan] yeah. - you don't have same day registration. we don't have early voting, we don't have vote by mail. - texas, by the way, says to new york on that, "hold my beer," as far as, like difficulties to vote. - you think you have it bad, but-- - well, i hear you, but i want to wrap it together. yeah, but new york, my beloved, very self congratulatory new york, meanwhile, has laws that are not helping people vote, and actually stand in the way of it. - [evan] yeah.
- so, physician, heal thyself, i say to new yorkers. look, we have two million people eligible to register in the state of new york, who are not registered. we can fix that, so what i've announced as a democracy agenda for new york city, we have set a registration goal for the city. absolutely non-partisan, we want everyone of every background to sign up. - right. - but we want to register 1.5 million, 1.5 million new yorkers in the next four years. we've got a chief democracy officer. we want someone who is constantly looking at the ways to encourage involvement and participation, we're gonna do civics education a very different way in our schools. it's been staid and uninvolving for kids for a long time. we're going to encourage kids to get involved in the issues of the day, and actually learn how to be-- - and to those people who are critics, mr. mayor, of this effort, and say "what you're really trying to do is indoctrinate, not educate, and what you're really trying to do is to turn out democratic votes, not turn out votes," your response is what? - it's, we're going to do a non-partisan drive. i don't care what you believe. - i want you involved. - right, just participate. - i think it is about the health of this city, my city-- - right. - my state, but also
the whole country going forward. - right, yeah. - but let me tell you, we're also going to go to public financing of elections. taking big money out of politics encourages people to run locally, encourages people to believe that their vote matters. this, to me, is one of these transcendent things that could actually change and reengage the democratic process in the country. so, i think we're in a very exciting moment, but we've gotta tend to our democracy. it's been hurting for a lotta years, but not for lack of concern. the concern levels, the interest levels, are shooting upward. we've gotta figure out how to now align our laws to actually meet that moment, and the last point i want to make is alabama, which is very telling. - yeah. - even with the repressive laws, my editorial comment, laws that were meant to restrict voter participation, you saw the result in the u.s. senate race. - well, if you ran a child molester in every election, you guys would win. (audience laughs) - and i gotta tell you, i appreciate that analysis, but i think there's something else going on that's been under analyzed. - okay. - doug jones was a candidate who actually spoke to people's minds and their hearts. he had done something powerful and meaningful
in his work as u.s. attorney. - [evan] yeah. - the level of activity and organizing and door knocking that was happening was far beyond the question of who roy moore was. and if you look at the turnout in alabama in that election, with all the barriers, there's like, people had to jump a bunch of hurdles to get to their polling station-- - but they got there. - but they got there in record numbers. - right. - that says something about the moment. - and that was about candidate recruitment on mr. jones, to a great degree, they got a good candidate, and we have just a couple minutes left. on the subject of candidate recruitment, are you recruiting cynthia nixon to run against andrew cuomo for governor? - no. - why do people think you are? she is a political ally of yours, let's just say that you and the governor are not exactly america's fun couple, right? (audience laughs) we think we have cities versus state tension in texas, nothing compared to what you have there. she's talking about running. - yeah. - it's like, i go to bed at night, there's no snow on the ground, i wake up in the morning there's snow on the ground, i didn't see it snow, but i know it's snowed. you want to tell me you have nothing to do with this? (audience laughs) - okay, that, your analogy is fascinating,
i know explain how-- (audience laughs) - i mean, come on, i don't see your fingerprints on it, but you're not telling me they're there? - evan, evan, let me explain how snow works. (audience laughs) - okay, all right. - it gets very cold, and then. - i get it, okay. (audience laughs) - i am not involved in that effort. - it's not snowing in the governor's race. - yes, it's not, okay. one, i'm not involved in the effort, two, i don't know what she's gonna do, three, she has been a prominent political activist in new york state for many many years. - i'm not suggesting this is, like, cardi b running, i'm suggesting that this is actually-- - i am impressed by your cultural relevance. - thanks very much. - very good. - we both have teenagers. - yeah. - the point is she is not showing up having not been involved in politics or in activism, stipulated, but still she is somebody who shares your political view - yes. - progressive politics - yeah. - is to the left of governor cuomo on a lot of issues - yeah. - and has been an ally of yours, so one would-- - i understand that. - one would wonder. - but i'm just saying it very clearly. not involved, i don't know what she's going to do, i think what is happening, though, is happening all over the country.
we are seeing progressives in the democratic party questioning the status quo all over this country. and not accepting the old ground rules. if you've got an incumbent democrat, it used to be the message within the party is "oh, don't challenge the incumbent." - friendly incumbent rule, right. - right, and oh, we've gotta worry about what happens in the fall. that's not being accepted, all over the country. - yeah. - i think progressives and democrats are saying we need a progressive party both morally, we believe in those values, but if we wanna win nationally, we've gotta get back to our core values, we've gotta have a strong populist economic message, but populism in the sense of actually trying to serve everyday people, we've gotta be willing to say things like "we're going to tax the wealthy, so that working people can have a better life." there's a set of ideas that progressives believe in, that are basically non-negotiable at this point. - yeah. - meaning, if our candidates are not evincing those values, if our national party is not evincing those values, progressives are gonna challenge it.
we don't think it's ideal to just stay home and stay back. - so you don't run from, mr. mayor, the divide in the democratic party at the moment, you run toward it. - absolutely, because i believe it's going to be ultimately an act of healing, i really do. - yeah. - i think that, look, i grew up a believer in the party of franklin roosevelt-- - yeah. - and by the way, tip of the cap to texas' own, lyndon baines johnson, for what he achieved as president, and i think it's underrated in many ways what his domestic agenda was for this country. - he also, by the way, was attacked from the left. - unquestionably. - i mean, the fact is, this is not a new thing. - no, and thank you! a very important historical perspective, it's not a new thing because, unfortunately, on foreign policy in particular, he governed very much as a conservative, but my point is, the democratic party has an essential nature, as a party of working people. a party that is willing to challenge powerful forces on behalf of working people. that got lost, in many ways, over more recent decades. what's happening now, and again, it goes back to the recession, it goes back to occupy wall street,
there's a lot of things pre-trump that were already building this. - yep. - bernie sanders' movement occurred before anyone thought trump was serious. all of these pieces are coming together, and democrats around the country who are progressive, are saying "we're gonna remake this party. we are going to have an identifiable party." this is the important point, evan. if you don't know what democrat stands for, the democrat will lose. this is some what happened in the 2016 election. - right. - all over the country. - democrats were against something, not for something. - and democrats did not have a differentiation from republicans that was sharp and clear enough to actually motivate all those people who went to trump, a lot of them had voted for obama before, they didn't feel there was a clear idea, a clear vision that would change their lives. we gotta recapture that. - the big message is differentiate yourself, don't be a faked republican, be a real democrat. - correct. - and then that's the political future for the party. - both, again, morally, in my opinion-- - right. - and practically. - mr. mayor, we're outta time. great treat to be with you, sir. - thank you. - mayor bill deblasio, thank you very much. (audience cheers) we'd love to have you join us in the studio.
visit our website at klru.org/overheard q and as with our audience and guests, and an archive of past episodes. - i think it's gonna be a democratic and progressive rallying cry going forward, to rescind the tax giveaways to the wealthy and corporations, and what was a very unfair, in my view, effort to take away state and local deductibility. been part of this country for over a hundred years-- - [evan] yeah. - affected about 100 million americans, i don't think that action is forever.
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